Thursday, July 24, 2014

Track’s sweet 16th

Liberty continued to dominate in the Big South Track and Field Indoor Championships Feb. 21 and 22, bringing home a men’s conference championship title for the 16th straight year. The women’s squad captured second place in the competition, finishing behind Coastal Carolina.

The Liberty men coasted to an easy victory in the 2013 conference championship. The Flames tallied 163.5 points over the two days of competition, with their closest competitor finishing 65 points back.

Liberty handled the field in the conference meet. The men’s team received a significant number of points after posting first-place finishes in three different events.

Redshirt senior thrower Ryan Smith led the way for the Flames in the field. Smith threw for 59-0.25, almost five feet farther than the second-place finisher, to capture an individual victory in the shot put. The win was Smith’s fourth consecutive victory in the indoor event.

“Basically, this was a mental challenge to not crack under pressure,” Smith said. “I sealed the competition on the very first throw and had a few chances to hit a big throw, and I did.”

Smith continued his success in the weight throwing competition. The redshirt senior’s 62-8.5 toss earned him second place.

The Flames also received 23.5 team points in the pole vault. Redshirt freshman Cody Bingham cleared 15.5 for first place in the event, while redshirt senior Cody Fridgen finished runner-up.

Sophomore Kyle Wheeler contributed 10 points to the team’s final tally with a victory in the high jump. Wheeler won the event for the second straight season with a height of 6-9.5.

On the track, Liberty controlled the distance events. Caleb Edmonds placed first in the 3000-meter run with a time of 8:20.14. Josh MacDonald finished the 5000-meter run in first place, nearly 10 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.

In the final event of the conference championship meet, the Flames solidified their win with a come-from-behind victory in the 4×400-meter relay. In the final strides of the race, senior Paul Arslain edged out Charleston Southern’s anchor to cross the finish line first with a time of 3:20.66. Arslain was joined by Andre Washington, Tyler Weigandt and Kyle Gill in the winning effort.

“Really, it was a team effort,” Arslain said. “(Washington) ran a fantastic split and put the team in a great place to win, but everybody did what was necessary to come out
on top.”

The Liberty men brought home six event titles as a part of their team victory.

“The team just went out and performed as we ought to,” Arslain said. “God has blessed us to have a very deep team, so even though we didn’t win by the projected amount, we still won handily.”

The men’s team victory helped Liberty maintain its unprecedented success in the Big South. The Flames have never lost a conference championship, dating back to the first Big South Indoor Track and Field Championships in 1998.

The team’s 16th straight win marks the longest string of conference championships in any sport in the Big South. Liberty’s record also marks the second-longest active streak of NCAA Division I men’s indoor track and field championships.

On the women’s side of the Big South Track and Field Indoor Championships, Liberty came in as the underdog, placing second behind rival Coastal Carolina and scoring 142 points to Coastal’s 182.

With the second-place finish, the Lady Flames failed to secure a fourth-consecutive Big South Championship.

“In the women’s meet, we knew that Coastal was going to be a problem. They have a very strong team,” Head Coach Brant Tolsma said. “In the distance events, we held together really well. We held our own in the field events, but they kind of put it to us in the sprints. I was hoping we would’ve been a little closer than we were.”

Despite their position in the final standings, the Lady Flames did secure three individual event wins.

The highlight for the Lady Flames came at the hands of sophomore Mychelle Cumings. Her 51-4.25 throw in the shot put landed her a new school record and a conference championship title. Cumings received the award as the co-Big South Women’s Outstanding Field Performer.

Kristen Willeford also impressed in the field with a first-place finish in the high jump. The junior cleared 5-5 to secure the victory.

On the track, distance runner Jacy Christensen crossed the finish line first in the 3000-meter run with a time of 10:00.65. Teammate Khristina Kanagy finished in second place, crossing the finish line with a mark of 10:00.82.

Christensen also placed third in the mile run, her second event of the meet. Kanagy competed in the 5000-meter run and took the runner-up spot. The two were the Lady Flames’ top point scorers, each contributing 16 points.

“I’m hoping that it will be a growing experience for everybody and that we focus going into the outdoor season,” Tolsma said. “(We will) try to analyze any weaknesses we have to try to address them and improve them.”

Liberty will send a number of athletes to the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America and Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in Boston, Mass. The meet will take place March 1-3 at Boston University.

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